Monday, July 16, 2012


But for a bad business move, Jimmy Cliff might be considered reggae's biggest star.  After all, he was the one breaking through in the early 70's, thanks to British hits Wonderful World, Beautiful People, his anti-war Viet Nam, which Bob Dylan called the best protest song ever written, and a smash cover of Cat Stevens' Wild World.  Then came his biggest of all, a starring role in the hit film The Harder They Come, which brought the sounds of reggae around the world.  But Cliff was upset with Island boss Chris Blackwell, who had brought him to England in the first place, and thought he was favouring Bob Marley over him, spending more on promotion.  So he jumped ship for another label, and watched as Marley leaped ahead, ironically enjoying even more of Blackwell's promotion, now that Cliff was out of the picture.

Yet Cliff's contributions have been many, although never quite as political or controversial as Marley.  He leaned towards the pop side more, and was always more at home with the commercial influences of 60's U.S. soul music, and his roots in ska and rock steady, the precursors of reggae.  Not to say he never went that harder route, just not all the time.

This is a welcome return to Cliff's best sounds, and certainly his best work since the 70's.  It's a surprising production by Tim Armstrong of Rancid, a big reggae fan.  The goal was simple, to return to the classic sounds of Cliff's late 60's - early 70's heyday, and that's exactly what they've done.  Cliff hasn't lost a bit of his voice, and wanted this bad.  His lyrics are direct and captivating, full of the more subtle messages which mark his best work.  The cut Reggae Music is a highlight, as he tells his life story, from the music side, and his commitment to human rights.  Children's Bread is another strong one, chastising those who starve the youngest for their own profit.  Cliff wrote 'em all here, except for a cover of Rancid's Ruby Soho, and an inspired choice, The Clash's best reggae number, Guns Of Brixton.  Not only is it a great song, and an excellent version, Cliff's character in The Harder They Come, Ivanhoe, is name-checked, so it's downright perfect, bringing it all full circle.

The music is great throughout, thanks to Armstrong's core studio group.  It's not punk'ed up at all, but the original sounds of ska, rock steady, and the right soul and pop touches.  Considering that nobody really does reggae right anymore, and most Jamaican output the last 20 years has sucked as they chased dance hall hits, and whatever, this is the best new reggae album in decades, methinks.

No comments:

Post a Comment